Dozens of public housing employees in New York City were charged with bribery and extortion on Tuesday in a record for the largest number of bribery charges filed in a single day by the Justice Department.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged 70 current and former employees of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) with accepting cash bribes from contractors in exchange for Housing Authority contracts, The New York Times reported.
The suspects are accused of accepting more than $2 million in bribes from contractors who wanted to work on nearly 100 of the Housing Authority’s buildings in all five boroughs. More than $13 million in work was awarded, with the suspects typically getting 10% or 20% kickbacks, sometimes more, prosecutors said.
The suspects were arrested in handcuffs in a major raid Tuesday morning.
“This culture of corruption at NYCHA ends today,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York at a press conference Tuesday morning, calling it a “classic pay to play” scheme.
Much of the Housing Authority corruption involved smaller contracts that initially flew under the radar, like window or plumbing repairs. If city contracts are less than $10,000, local development managers can award them without going through the public bidding process.
Lisa Bova-Hiatt, NYCHA’s chief executive, said the suspects “put their greed first and violated the trust of our residents, their fellow NYCHA colleagues and all New Yorkers.”
“We will not allow bad actors to disrupt or undermine our achievements,” she said.
The smaller contracts have been flagged for potential corruption in the past by both investors and news outlets. Some contractors have even been charged before — in 2021, nine contractors were charged with bribery.
Meanwhile, a host of other problems plague the city’s Housing Authority, which houses more than half a million New Yorkers across more than 2,400 buildings.
The agency has been criticized for operating old buildings with rodents, leaky pipes, and broken elevators, as well as for its backlog of hundreds of thousands of people on the housing waiting list. The properties currently need about $78 billion worth of repairs.
At the same time, people are paying less rent to the agency than ever. In 2022, the Housing Authority collected a record low 65% of the rent it charged.
The city’s Housing Authority is the largest in the country and receives more than $1.5 billion in federal funding.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has emphasized affordable housing, announcing back in the fall an ambitious goal of 100,000 new homes to combat the city’s severe housing shortage.